Maybe it was a little fucked up for my mother to do what she did, but I can't now, nor ever really could, blame her. Stuck in a loveless relationship for far too long, and - let's face it - being a passionate woman, she threw herself at him with a ferocity that only the mortally terrified atheist can have. Closing in on fifty, gaining speed over that hill, I can understand her need to have someone else beside her to enjoy what remains. Still, I would've appreciated a little warning before I found myself watching her and a stranger cuddle on a little blue loveseat in the stranger's suspiciously tidy home. Just a little heads up would've been nice before my sister and I had to wonder just who this man was who'd suddenly earned such an exultant position in my mother's life.
As if all this weren't suspicious enough, this man's - this stranger's - favorite place to hang out was a dingy faux-Irish restaurant in a strip mall. There, incidentally, one could also find my red-nosed English teacher after - say - three-fifteen most afternoons. Boy, did this teacher love hating to see me come in with my mom and the man, but I can't say I blame him either. To this day I still don't know why I had to go with them. I was old enough to look after myself, maybe twelve or thirteen by then. I figure my mom thought, too late, that I should get to know this new person who - despite suddenly occupying ostensibly the exact same role - I needn't regard as my new dad. Like hell I would! MY dad didn't hang out at a place called Kerrigan's run by two Italians name Sal and Lou. MY dad didn't cuddle! With anyone!
Lou and his wife, two more strangers, were buddies with the man - fine, his name is Allan. This meant, apparently, that Lou and his wife were also buddies with us - my mother and me. Some Sundays we'd all sit down together during the buffet brunch, in the awful-ugly smoke-stained brown and green vinyl booths. While the adults talked, I would quietly contemplate the poisonous nature of passive obedience, praying all the while for a fire in the kitchen, an exploded gas main, or anything to get me out of that place and away from these insufferable people. Their talk was so full of names and places I'd never encountered before that it was essentially incomprehensible to me. To this day there is nothing more tedious to me than being forced to listen to a stranger's gossip.
Sometimes there would be a few younger girls there, nieces of Lou and his wife. Although I was only three years older, I looked on them as barely hatched things, almost as unpleasant to see as they were to hear. They knew I was older, and with girls that young being older is just about the most fascinating thing you can be. They asked me about a thousand questions in drippy voices the color of plastic sequins and Kool-Aid: do you like this and do you like that? What's your favorite this, what's your favorite that? But their souring tone and narrowing eyes made it obvious that they were beginning to get a feel for what a nerd I was. The interrogation persisted until finally, getting frustrated at how disappointing I'd turned out to be, the uglier girl asked, "what sports do you play?"
"None," I said, bored, eager to confess to anything that might annoy these young things into leaving me alone.
"What do you mean," she asked, "you don't play anything?"
"Nothing," I said too loudly. "I hate sports!" Despite how inconsequential that seems now, I saw my mother, a stranger herself amongst this new clique and therefore also insecure, visibly tense up. Because she was responsible for me, because I was an extension of her own self, her acceptance into this new scene was dependent upon my own acceptance. It was the first time I'd noticed my mother get embarrassed by me. What I'd said was not a small remark to her. Lovesick as she was, and uncompromising in her efforts to win her crush's affection, to her what I'd said was a confession of the unforgivable crime of being different. She knew, instinctively, that what the world likes least is someone different, so after a shouting match on the drive home she eventually told me, acidly, "keep your opinions to yourself. You don't want to seem weird." I would often be told to stop being “weird" after that.
Nowadays I'm an openly weird man living in a mostly weird-friendly city. I have weird friends and weird hobbies. I don't have to secretly despise professional sports anymore and perhaps because of that my derision has mellowed. Or, more likely, it's because as I've gotten older I've noticed so many absurdities in the world around me that to give them all their due attention would require entirely too much energy and would eventually, definitely, drive me absolutely batshit. At any time I could ponder the fact that Derek Jeter's 2010 contract is to the tune of $21 million; enough money that were it to be spread around, it would do enormous tangible good to countless more deserving people. That's a sum of money that no argument - no argument - can be made to justify. I could suck on that one for a while, but I try not to. Because, in this our fucked up free market economy, if people want to throw money at the MLB, then the MLB has every right to throw money at Derek Jeter. All I can do is stay out of it and encourage my friends to do the same. So, my friends: go out there and throw or kick a ball around. Score a point if that's what makes you feel good. But please stop giving your money to Derek Jeter. There will always be professional sports. If everybody suddenly stops watching and starts playing, the only thing that's going to happen is that the quality of the play will improve. Seriously, America, get fucking with it already.